VacuumGlow is the only company in the world that serially produces lamp clocks. And now it is a small Russian startup, in which, apart from freelancers - a designer and an engineer - there are only four people.
According to the creators, their watches are a special piece of furniture, created at the intersection of retro stylistics and modern technologies. They look really unusual: you are unlikely to find a similar product in large retail stores or boutiques of popular technology. On the one hand, VacuumGlow uses gas-discharge lamps, which were very common 50 years ago, and then, with the advent of new technologies, they began to lose popularity - it is quite difficult to find them now. On the other hand, you can control the watch using a smartphone application: adjust the brightness of the indicators, change the color of the backlight and its intensity, animation of changing numbers, and so on.
In a fairly short period of time, VacuumGlow managed not only to create a client base in Russia, but also to attract the attention of a foreign audience: to conclude contracts with European and Chinese partners, and also to get on the website of the authoritative British publication The Telegraph.
Vadim Garnaev with his team © VacuumGlow press service
met with the founder of the company, Vadim Garnaev, to find out how to turn your hobby into an exceptional business.
More than a hobby
Before I founded VacuumGlow, I worked as a manager at Dozhd, at Digicast, then at a TV channel in Kiev, in general, I was engaged in digital content. VacuumGlow essentially appeared at a time when I had nothing to do - but I wanted to do something. And to create something "physical", something that you can touch with your hands.
I can't say for sure why I decided to do it for hours. I am fond of good sound - hence the interest in tubes (old and expensive amplifiers use electric tubes - ed.). I came across on the Internet a model of a watch built around this technology. I just read something somewhere, I realized that people on the net collect a lot on their knees. I studied the topic and understood: from the lamps, in general, nothing but clocks (such that would be widely used) will not work. Initially, all this was for me as a hobby, I just wanted to keep my hands busy. And then everything worked out - harmoniously, by itself.
But it's one thing to do something entirely on your own, and another to create a business around it. I turned to an engineer I knew - and despite the fact that there are guides on the network, and ready-made boards on sale, we decided not to take any ready-made solutions and do everything from scratch. And then hell began.
© press service VacuumGlow
First, our "electronics engineer" made the first prototype - literally in a box, but it became clear that the device works. At the same time, the basic concept got life - no buttons, all control via a smartphone. This is a combination of retro and modern technology. I invested 1 million rubles in the development of the prototype, this amount includes factory prototypes.
When the turn came to create a commercial prototype, I turned to the plant in Tomsk. The scale immediately changed. When you do everything yourself, everything is much easier. No hole in the body - I drilled it. And engineers in factories will simply refuse to work if the drawings do not converge.
At first I tried to do everything on my own. He explained to the factory how the watch should look: one-piece case, metal one-piece milled and square. They did exactly the opposite: a round case made of sheet aluminum - they called it "creative". But in the end, it was with them that we released the first batch of watches. Although we are pretty tired of each other, I am very grateful to them.
As a result, we started looking for a designer and found him online. I just went online, looked at examples of work on thematic sites, chose a guy from Novosibirsk - he still works with us. He drew a photorealistic render. The upper part of the case of our watches, the entire surface under the lamps is glass. The plant convinced that acrylic should be used instead - it is well cut, and things made from it are much easier to manufacture, but when you touch it, the tactile sensations are not at all the same, plus it scratches faster. Glass is generally the most difficult component of our watches to manufacture. The holes in it are very close, and they simply cannot cut so neatly. But it was glass that we needed - and they told me that it simply cannot be made, the layout was drawn by the designer, not the technologist. Of course, because if a technologist did it,that would be ugly! In the end, we got the glass - only it is made in three different places. Some produce, others cut, and still others process the edge.
When we started production of the first prototypes, we made three different versions. We got a lot of money: difficulties constantly arose, we coordinated trifles with the plant literally every day. It is very difficult to find a sufficient level of quality in Russia, everything is done through one place. You, in spite of the fact that the customer, must first beg to do something for you, and then also control the process. Recently, a case manufacturer let us down - they wanted to postpone production for two weeks, which drastically disrupts our deadlines. With ours it is very difficult: of course, you can achieve anything from them, the question is only in the number of spent nerves.
Lamp clock rendering © VacuumGlow press service
The company that produced the first batch of hulls for us refused to continue working at all - they say it's too difficult.
The difficulties do not end on the case: it is difficult to find large lamps for our watches, and out of the three found, there may be one working lamp. We usually buy them either from our hands or from companies that sell lamps, which is quite expensive. There are fewer and fewer lamps left, someday they will simply run out, so we are now working to recreate the production. Do not copy.
The first six serial watch models that I brought from the factory were pre-ordered. I opened it when the prototype was ready and it became clear that we had a product to sell. It only remained to put everything on stream. We began to create a website and develop a Facebook group - advertising in it was essentially the only promotion tool. There was simply nothing to show, and there was not enough money for something more ambitious. Then there was a crisis, we thought about what to do next, but in the end we decided not to shut down, because the product may be in demand not only in Russia. We made an English-language website. The first batch came out - 110 pieces - and at the beginning everything was rather sad.
We tried to go to Indiegogo too - there the campaign failed. We ourselves have made many mistakes, if they ask me now, I can say for sure how not to do it if you are going to work with a crowdfunding platform. It was important to get involved in a PR company before entering the platform, so that something was already written about you before it. There was a lack of "human" videos, some videos with people in whose houses, for example, our watches are. Immediately after the start, a bunch of people appear who offer promotion of the project for money. In fact, all this is useless - you will be placed in dead communities on social networks, or bots will be caught up in order to increase the number of views of promo materials.
© press service VacuumGlow
We entered the foreign market relatively easily - we went to the High End Show in Munich, we were lucky to get a stand next to Sennheiser. Everyone was transported by car, because otherwise the transportation alone would have had to pay about 600 thousand rubles. Despite the fact that we did not have the most beautiful stand, the product looked very bright there against the background of ordinary headphones and amplifiers. In the early days, when a business-oriented audience came to the exhibition, the excitement was unexpectedly great. There were three of us - and we were not enough. About seven people wanted to buy a watch right at the stand - the power of impulse purchases. Unfortunately, we could not sell them anything because of the intricacies of customs clearance, and then, after some time, they "left" and did not buy anything.
But they began to talk and write about us, and there we managed to conclude a couple of dealer contracts. The problem is essentially the same - few people want to bother with customs in Europe, so we ended up having to register a company in Germany.
Now we have much more foreign clients. Dealers buy our watches in stores, I don't even know which ones. We have an importer there, we sell to him, and then he himself decides where to exhibit the watch and at what price.
In Russia, watches are bought mostly by well-to-do people. Moreover, large models that cost twice as much sell better. No one bargains or asks for discounts, people just come, look, fall in love with them and buy. In general, our audience here is those who do not feel the crisis. They don't buy our watches with the last money. We are customer oriented, so if someone wants to match all lamps from the same year or get engraved - we will do it, if possible. If it doesn't cost us anything, we won't charge extra money.
Well, then the Chinese suddenly came out on us.
A delicate matter
It was strange, and at first I didn't even believe it. The Chinese love to buy and copy everything, so the first thing they asked was: are we not afraid that they will disassemble our devices, see how everything works and do the same, but cheaper. We were not afraid: they do not have the most important thing - lamp indicators - they have nowhere to take them and no one in the Celestial Empire produces them. The maximum that can happen is that they make a cheap likeness out of incomprehensible components - a dubious undertaking. We have a different philosophy - we do not seek to reduce the cost of production as much as possible. Our watches are a piece of furniture and an ideal gift for a person who has everything. Therefore, the nearest plans are to release really expensive watches with a titanium case and sapphire crystal.
It is terribly difficult to talk with the Chinese on business, they put a lot of pressure. Everything that is written about this on the network - however, they are aggressively negotiating. But in the end, we agreed, and our watches went to retail stores in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shenzhen. The stores, by the way, are well-chosen: they are mainly located next to the boutiques of Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and other famous brands. So they can catch the eye of our potential buyers. By the way, watches are sold there more expensive than ours.
But it is too early to talk about gigantic profits: everything that is earned is immediately invested in further production.
The power of nostalgia
There was a thought about how to "push" when promoting the Soviet theme. But in the end, this idea was abandoned: I lived in the USSR and I cannot say that I feel strong nostalgia. Of course, the aesthetics are interesting, but it seemed to me that there would be more disadvantages from “Soviet-style”. Retro is always popular in certain circles, but we do not position our product exclusively as retro. This is a completely modern device, and even unusual. If a person is 30-35 years old and above, for him it is, yes, nostalgia. And for those who are younger - something new, unseen before. Many have not seen a lamp clock. But they are, in one word, cool. It may be corny, but I really think so.>